Photo depicting a mural with various prominent POC activists and individuals against a blue and yellow prismatic background.

‘Interrupting Privilege’ Celebrates Radical Listening of BIPOC Experiences

by Agueda Pacheco Flores

When Ralina Joseph set out to create “Interrupting Privilege” six years ago, Donald Trump had just been elected into office. The following years would see the conversation around race shift once more and in a major way for the first time since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. 

“It was interesting,” Joseph said. “We didn’t plan this program in reaction to his election; we had it already planned because we knew people weren’t talking enough together about race.”

On Thursday of last week, Joseph, the director at the University of Washington’s Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity (CCDE), celebrated the launch of the public-facing community project she helped start so many years ago. The new website catalogues all the conversations CCDE has collected these past years and organized them by themes, which include policing, Black masculinity, mental health, and microaggressions. 

At the Othello-UW Commons site, participants of Interrupting Privilege and community members got together to listen radically to the experiences of BIPOC Seattlites. Radical listening is a method Joseph developed that encourages people to avoid judgment and, instead, think of ways one can change their everyday life to combat racism. 

“We just knew there was a tremendous need for people to come together and have genuine conversations, conversations that were connected to change making — let me talk to someone who is different than me, let me identify the ways I am complicit in inequality everyday and how can I change that,” Joseph explains. “That’s the impetus for the project.”

More than 200 people participated in the project over the years, which has resulted in more than 200 audio clips of intimate and vulnerable conversations. 

The structure of the conversations are not like traditional interviews; instead, participants are paired together and given a questionnaire to frame their conversation around. The questions provide a starting point, but Joseph points out that participants were free to expand or change the focus of the conversation all together if they pleased.

The celebration was the center’s first hybrid event, meeting in person and streaming to an online audience simultaneously. Around 30 people showed up to the in-person listening party and more than 30 people logged on to the online event. 

The listening party highlighted three conversations — each as powerful as the last. Participants in those conversations were among the audience and had the chance to address the audience before playing their clip as well as take questions following the audio clip. 

In the first, a 2017 conversation featuring the voices of mentor Marcus Johnson and mentee Marvin Marshall, Johnson asks Marshall, a formerly incarcerated person and at the time a student pursuing academia at the UW, what his transition from “that space to this space” is like.

“I always feel like there’s eyes on me as a Black man in America,” Marshall says in the audio clip. “I’m always trying to exceed those negative stereotypes of the Black man.”

The conversation goes on to shed light on code-switching and the importance of role models and Black male representation in academia. 

Another conversation highlighted at the event was that of a young woman born and raised in Seattle and discussing her Blackness in this predominantly white city and what that means. 

“My childhood was not a smooth or clean straight line,” the young woman says on the audio clip. “I understand my Blackness because I have no choice.”

She goes on to point out the relatively small population of Black people there are in Seattle. 

“It’s only when I get to a city that has more Black people that I realize how much non-Blackness I’ve had in my life,” she adds.

For Josh Griffin, the CCDE program operations manager, that conversation hit close to home. He grew up just north of Seattle and left for Atlanta but recently moved back.

“Atlanta is Black mecca and there’s a lot of opportunities to get involved in social justice work,” he said. “Now my mindset moving forward is how can we make [Seattle] a Black mecca?”

The last conversation at the listening party features a rare, yet revealing, perspective: that of a Black police officer. The interview was conducted last year, during Seattle’s CHOP and nationwide protests against police brutality. He breaks down immediately in the clip after he says, “I actually think nobody’s taking care of me except me and God.”

“Wow, I didn’t think that would come out like that,” he adds. 

Joseph said that conversation speaks to the lack of empathy and spaces there are for Black officers to be vulnerable.

Participants of Interrupting Privilege, who range in backgrounds and age, the youngest being 5 and oldest in their late 70s, have come from around the city thanks to partners like the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM). They’ve also recently partnered with UW’s Resilience Lab and began recording new conversations last week. 

Joseph said she hopes the website will not only be used by teachers and researchers, but by legislators as well. “Pairing narrative with structural change is huge,” she said. 

The listening party is the first of many, with more planned for the future. Those interested in joining are encouraged to sign up for the CCDE newsletter.

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.

📸 Featured Image: Mural titled “We Are Here” by VivaLaFreedpdx, Alex Chiu, A’Misa Chiu, Justin Phillip, Kiana Chelew, Layna Lewis, and Ameya Marie Okamoto. Photo attributed to Chris Christian (under a Creative Commons, CC BY-NC 2.0 license).

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